My Bones were itching. I chalked it up to all the TV dinners I ate as a kid. TV Dinners were a novelty of convenience. After Vietnam, the Carter inflation farm repo years made every young couple tighten belts. My parents were no different. My Dad got back from Nam in October of 1969. After he ate his full of bologna sandwiches and Jack Daniels, he got a job slopping food in the cafeteria of a sludge plant in Rockford, Il. By 1974, he was a manager of a food service team in Des Moines, IA and had two kids. Lived in a duplex on a hill. Every picture of the house is yellow and the only thing I never noticed was the place had a dirt yard.
Each day was a Friday of lent for my father. He had a fried egg and toast for breakfast, or a pepper and egg sandwich for lunch. For dinner he maybe would eat a smidgen of a cheap cut of meat and a few potatoes and some vegetables, canned or the frozen variety, perhaps raw. Luckily he married a poor farm girl who loathed the mutton and rabbit that grew her. My mother was never a cook and as long as it wasn’t either of those two things, she’d eat it. My father did all the cooking on account of my mother being so awful in the culinary arts. The amusing thing is that she has a B.A. in home economics. The only thing she could bake was lemon meringue pie. She made us tuna noodle casserole or goulash, but that stretched her reach from the Old Style. She’d light her Marlboros from the burners on the stove.
All of history and the past is tough, but skimping by is embarrassing. Trying to be proud when you know your shoes have holes and you’re working two jobs wears the soul like overalls with no straps. Kids are brats that always want something... and you love them because you know that the love is something you never had and if you can’t give them love or toys and they go without knowing... So they gave us TV dinners in front of the Brady Bunch which wasn’t a semblance of reality. We tore our tin foil off the compartments and ate the meals made by mom while Dad whiled the ways away in his way.
When Dad was home he would make us a variety of different meals:
- Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans. Ketchup
- Baked chicken with mashed potatoes and corn.
- Pork chops with wide egg noodles and peas with carrots.
- Baked mostaccioli with garlic bread and a salad.
- Spaghetti with the same.
- Catch a can.
- Steak, Veal and Ribs were special.
If the potatoes weren’t mashed, they were boiled or baked. Relish trays of carrots, celery, raddish, black olives, green pepper, and scallions were common. We ate iceberg lettuce covered in Kraft Catalina dressing. We did grind our own pepper.
When my father bought a T-bone steak, one for us four to share, he’d cut us each a piece and give the bone with some meat on it to my mother, heavily salted and way well done. My mother hates the site of rare meat and refuses to eat it if it isn’t scorched awful. She’d take the bone and gnaw it across from me at the table and it always made me sick. She did it with a Pork chop bone one time when I brought my college girlfriend home for Christmas. I ground my teeth and turned red trying to be agast.
I cried once because the cheeseburger my father fried in his old cast iron skillet didn’t taste as good as a McDonald’s.
I don’t eat fast food anymore. I haven’t eaten much of it aside from necessity once in the last ten years. I was just out of college and get out as all poor. I lived in a three hundred square foot studio in the wanna be hood for $345 a month. I loved the place. I grew tired of eating crap fast food and embarked on my journey of beans and rice and on sale chicken. In the fall I’d hint it up to my pals that I’d take any venison off their hands that they could kill. I ate the cheapest vegetables and had a banana for breakfast every day. I fell in love with every sad song on the radio when my hot plate ruined my meal.
I never ate ketchup soup or Ramen for more than two days. I ate rice. Burnt rice, soft rice, sticky rice, brown rice. I discovered that the Asian market sold twenty five pound bags of rice for a sawbuck. I found a Lebanese market with ten pitas for $2.25 and chick peas for thirty nine cents a pound. I bought their spices. A metamorphosis ruptured all under me. I became special to the proprietors of these little shops. I was a loose flake in the menagerie of standard subculture. I was golden. A smile and repeat business goes a long way.
I’d like to say that poverty is a state of mind but my stomach growled a different tune too many times. I longed for a real OREO once, eating some generic black and white sandwich cookie. Then I ate a real peach and let my fingers get sticky and I smelled summer.
I just want to be happy.
Poverty Cuisine really isn’t any of the things I’ve outlined in this sketch. Real poverty cuisine is something I haven’t experienced for any duration. I’ve always had food. Granted, it wasn’t flour and water, but when you add a little salt and sugar yeast foam, you have dough. Knead it.